Perhaps Douglas Adams' greatest gift was for procrastination. Which created perhaps his greatest literary gift - an ability to create expansive, rambling narratives which both entertained and advanced the plot (mostly); mostly composed over hours of switch-on, switch-off composition. His legendary ability to achieve minimal results in maximum time abruptly ended the first Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy novel when his publishers literally said "Finish the current chapter and submit it". That he was able to draw the strings together on such long-winded expanses of prose after his short attention span was distracted by coffee, his Mac or even a passing butterfly was not only a gift but random acts of genius.
Eoin Colfer - he of the Artemis Fowl series - evidently has the same ability to ramble. However his contribution to the Hitchhikers' multiverse unfortunately loses steam and becomes less charming and more rambling as it proceeds. Undoubtedly a wonderful writer, Colfer turns phrases easily and thoughtfully, a quality which makes him a reasonable choice as H2G2 writing supremo. However, Douglas Adams had a remarkable knack of being able to knit a plot around his tangential observations that Colfer somehow lacks - you feel as if you are either reading a paragraph aimed at advancing the plot, or one aimed at making the reader snigger. While he's attempted quite successfully to mimic Adams' style, by the half way point many sequences have become interminable you realise the best characters, ideas and plotting were all Adams'.
This results in a book which feels awfully like the Star Wars prequels (ouch!) - the best ideas were the original ones and new "gimmicks" mostly fall flat. When riffing from the chords that Adams laid down, it's punchy and quite amusing. The premise (and plot) of the book is relatively clear - and remarkably straightforward for H2G2 - and Colfer's prosaic nous is evident throughout, the work lags badly and eventually becomes burdensome.
That's not to say it's a bad book, but it feels like Colfer began by encouraging lightning to strike twice (or for a sixth time) and ends with his realisation that no-one can really write like Douglas Adams. Like other artists of the twentieth century - Adams' contemporary Graham Chapman, for example - he will be imitated but it's best to go your own direction with established characters. As an example - have you ever tried to write in someone else's style? It's hard. And apparently gets harder as you plug on through 273 pages.
Having not read any of Artemis Fowl I wasn't sure what to expect of the work, or my beloved H2G2 multiverse. You can't copy inspiration and expect the same results. Like Doctor Who after Russell T. Davies and The West Wing after Sorkin it's best to go in a different direction rather than using creative types with talents in different areas. It's a brave attempt and doesn't reflect badly on Colfer, but doesn't shine like Adams. In a word: expected.
Hitchhikers' fans should still read And Another Thing... but do so prepared to be left flat. First half tennis balls, second half golf balls.
Cover image courtesy: forbiddenplanet.co.uk